Saturday, July 15, 2006

Truth in the Bible, Part 2 - "What's Wrong With Sturking?"

A few weeks ago this guy came into my study for a little chat. In the course of the conversation, he said that a certain activity was a sin, and all you needed to do to know that for sure was “read the Old Testament.” I chose not to challenge him at the time, but his comment has been on my mind since then. It has been in the mix with the things I mentioned in my last post, and can serve as a case study for this one.

For the sake of conciseness, let’s make up something to call the certain activity we were talking about – how about “sturking”? And let’s say that somewhere in the Old Testament it says rather unambiguously, “Thou shalt not sturk.” Now, the fun begins!

Try this first:
Why does the Bible say, “Thou shalt not sturk?” Because it is wrong.
How do we know sturking is wrong? Because the Bible says it is.

Doesn’t work too well, does it? Circular reasoning.

Now try this:
Why does the Bible say, “Thou shalt not sturk?” Because it is wrong.
And why does the Bible say that sturking is wrong? Because sturking involves hurting another person. (Just making that up, okay?)

Aha! That works better. Now there is something else supporting the idea that we should never, ever sturk. In other words, it is not wrong because the Bible says it is, but rather the Bible says it is wrong because it involves hurting someone, and hurting someone on purpose, while it is not universally wrong (think of getting a shot from a doctor), in most contexts it is.

So back to the conversation above, the guy says, “Sturking is a sin. To know that, all you have to do is read the Old Testament.”

I might have replied, “But why is it in the Old Testament?”

He might have responded, “Because it is wrong,” which doesn’t work so well for me.
Or he might have said, “Because sturking involves hurting another person, something that is (almost) universally considered to be wrong,” which would work better.

But what if the Bible just says, “Thou shalt not sturk” without specifying an underlying reason for it? In a situation like that, we have options as to how we respond. Some possibilities are:

a - “I don’t think sturking is wrong, so the Bible must be wrong.”
b - “I don’t think sturking is wrong, so let’s figure out through prayer, study, and reflection why the Bible says it is.”
c - “I do think sturking is wrong, and here is the implied underlying truth to which the Bible is pointing.”
d - “I do think sturking is wrong, because the Bible says it is.”

I’m thinking that people with responses “a” and “d” are not going to have any fun talking together. But it is quite possible that people with responses “b” and “c” can somehow manage to get along, go out for lunch, and maybe even have a fruitful conversation about sturking through the ages.

Here’s what I know now: I believe that God desires this world to be a place filled with love, peace, justice, humility. I believe this about God. Furthermore, I believe that the Bible is the God-inspired expression of those divine desires. But I do not believe that we should “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” because the Bible tells us to. Rather, I believe we should do all that stuff because God wants us to.


If we can do so without sturking anyone, so much the better.

16 comments:

David said...

Andy, as a long-time sturker, I feel a need to remind you that perspective can make a big difference. ; )

The child getting the shot from the pediatrician isn't apt to be easily convinced of its benefits--it sure SEEMS like a purposeless pain. But as the child grows and learns, she begins to understand that, in that moment under those circumstances, the doctor was doing right by her. (And no, it doesn't mean the doctor wants to go around sticking needles in everyone she sees, either.)

I really should get more sleep before I post comments....

: )
D

Kansas Bob said...

Great posts Andy ... I referenced these posts in Bibliology and the Rainbow ... hope you don't mind.

Kansas Bob said...

Inspiration came late and I changed the name of the post to Bibliology, the Rainbow & Evangelicals.

Tim Sisk said...

Of course, the Bible also says, "To obey, is better than sacrifice" (1 Samuel 15) which could imply that God is really more concerned about our obedience than our figuring out why God thinks we shouldn't sturk.

Here I have in mind when King Saul fell from God's favor because he didn't kill the sheep and cattle when he defeated the Amalekites. God told him to kill everything, but Saul thinking it would be better to sacrifice them to God reserved them. His sacrifice was rejected because of his disobedience.

I'm not arguing for a theology that says, the OT says its so, so it must be right. I'm reacting against your tendency to impute simplistic notions to those with whom you disagree, not realizing that there may actually be more nuanced reasons people have for believing as they do.

Jesus said, "If you love me obey my commands. (Actually he says a lot about obedience in John 14.) And many people are earnestly seeking out what that means (and that I'm know includes you). The questioning comes in determining what commands Jesus referring--not "is this a valid command..." And the beginning place is love: for God and people). But it isn't the only place. God has placed standards of holiness that we are to keep that could easily be questioned along the lines of "who does it hurt" and I'm not talking about homosexuality here. I could be talking about sex outside of marriage. What's the harm? Who is being hurt? You could end up with interesting (I really mean warped) theologies if you work these things too hard.

I guess you can say that I reject the hermeneutic you are suggesting. At least you didn't bring in the whole liberals and conservatives discussion (lol).

I suspect you are trying to find a way to reconcile your views on homosexuality with what the Bible teaches. I don't think this argument advances that discussion very much. A stronger point would be should loving homosexual relationships be accepted as part of God's love? The difficulty is that some say "no, it violates God's intention in sexuality which is a mysterious and wonderful gift from God that shouldn't be twisted for our own desires". Others would say, "It is loving. Period. And can be just as loving as heterosexual covenanted relationships."

These are difficult to reconcile positions which is what makes this such a difficult discussion.

Or maybe you weren't even talking about that and I just drug it up and side tracked the discussion. So sorry, if I did.

Larry B said...

This is a tough post for me. On the one hand responses A,B,C or D don't change the truth - regardless of what it is. But I too would have a negative reaction to anyone who choses D (or A) so readily. My reason would be slightly different though. Someone who picks D is subject to falling apart when they ,for example, find out their son or daughter is "sturking".

I personally think scripture has to be backed up by reason for it to hold any personal meaning and depth. God's not changed by our questioning, nor does He reward blind obedience any more than fierce struggle - grace is an undeserved gift.

What I have always favored though, is starting with scripture, reasoning through what scripture said and applying that to experience. That tends to narrow down the arena of conclusions one could draw.

Too often, I think we fall into the trap of taking our experience, reasoning from that and attempting to put that onto scripture to cause it to conform to our experience and reason. At the Hearts on Fire conference last year, there were sermons preached that illustrated this approach. One in particular took the experience of patriarchy and read into the account of Paul exercising a demon from a girl as an act of male dominance (patriarchy) by removing the girls only source of making a living. In my opinion no amount of reasoning starting with scripture could have possibly lead to this conclusion, and thus I think fundamentally mistates the truth intended for this passage.

If we start with the assumption of truth in scripture, we can avoid the circular arguments of "because it is wrong - because the bible says" and talk more about given what the bible says, backed up with our best reasoning, how should we view our experiences in light of the truth placed before us. And unfortunately that doesn't exempt us from suffering or pain when we realize these truths. I think often of the rich man who had lived a very righteous life yet Jesus asked him to just give up that which defined him here on earth and he is described as leaving feeling very sad implying that he was unable to do so. If we find our experiences that we define ourselves by overriding our understanding of the truth brought to us through reason, then we may be in the same position as the rich man. (And the frustrating part is we never find out what happened to this guy!)

Michael said...

Funny thing that this basis of rational theology is what Marcus Borg speaks of in some of his writings. It is not enough for him (and, I suspect, for many) that it is wrong only because the Bible says it is wrong. That faith will crumble because there is no logic, no reason, no critical thought process.

Why does the Bible say it's wrong? Some say it depends on the particular period in which a book or a passage was written; it was speaking to a particular problem at a particular time.

My only objection to this thought process is that it suggests that human nature has somehow evolved, and I just don't see that. We may be more educated, according to man's standards, and we are certainly more technologically advanced, but these are both measured by worldly standards and not necessarily by divine standards even if we can find the Lord's hand in it. The fundamental nature of man, however, is timeless. We are, as the BoD suggests, corrupt by our nature.

What is truth? Heck if I know! But I'm pretty sure I cannot be a sturker if I don't even know what it is!

Larry B said...

As for Michael's comments I agree with most of it, although I personally bristle at this particular one and just had to post (since Tim bristled a little :0 - all in good fun - liked your resposnes to each other Tim and Andy)

"Funny thing that this basis of rational theology is what Marcus Borg speaks of in some of his writings."

While I suggest a rational approach, I don't think Marcus Borg embodies that approach. Admittedly I haven't read everything he's written, but what I have read leads me to this: His approach is to be 1700 or so years removed from the canonization of scripture and to take "modern scholarly tools" to draw up categories around which he can apply his tools and make assertions. These assertions of course can't ever be tested and in my opinion don't lead to much practical understanding. It also assumes his categorizations are valid, again we have no way to refute or confirm them either. Thus, Borg's approach in my opinion is not so much about using reason, which we all have the inherent ability to do, as it is using scholarly tools that he has learned through study.

Anyway, what I meant to convey in my comment, is that, as Andy has uncovered, it is important for some people to know how you know what you know. And when they pose this question they are really looking for a "rationalistic" response which can really only be given by starting with scripture and reinforcing it with reason.

Brett said...

Here's my problem with options A-C. You take your preconceived notions and ideas and force them into the meaning of scripture. Does scripture mean what it says, or does it mean what you want it to mean? Does scripture mean something, or can it mean anything?
If I say that sturking is ok, and the Bible says that sturking is not ok, and I twist the scripture so that for me sturking is ok, then I have done damage to the plain meaning of the scripture.

Stephen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stephen said...

I guess my problem with option a or d is that there is no room for the Holy Spirit. As one who is just starting to get a feel of the Holy Spirit, there has to be guidance(an organic movement of the Holy Spirit), not evolution.

Karen Booth said...

Andy writes ... "Here’s what I know now: I believe that God desires this world to be a place filled with love, peace, justice, humility. I believe this about God. Furthermore, I believe that the Bible is the God-inspired expression of those divine desires. But I do not believe that we should 'do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God' because the Bible tells us to. Rather, I believe we should do all that stuff because God wants us to."

But without the Bible, how do you know that God REALLY wants us to do that? Other people and faith traditions have utilized personal experience and general revelation and have come up with very different conclusions and approaches - especially when it comes to justice and mercy.

I find your argument just as circular as those you criticize.

Tim Sisk said...

Stephen: One of the more helpful conversations we've had in the UMC occurred two general conferences ago when "conservatives" and "liberals" (God I hate those terms) sat down and drafted a statement that recognized a very different pneumatology between the two groups. I'm drawing from memory here, but the "leaders" recognized that for "conservatives" the inspiration of the Holy Spirit meant that the HS was guiding us today to realize and understand what had already been revealed. "Liberals" believed the HS was inspiring and revealing more each day about God. I hope that is a fair recounting as I remember both "camps" seemed quite satisfied with both of their respective descriptions.

The question for me is not "who's right and who's wrong" but how can you reconcile these seemingly irreconcilable differences? I had hoped conversation (particularly around the homosexuality question, if we must keep discussing it) would continue on that line, but I've never seen anything come from that paper. Does anybody remember what the heck I'm talking about?

Because my "personal" pneumatology is closest to the conservative description described above, I get put into the conservative camp. I obviously disagree with the other described pneumatology (it rings of Marcion who claimed an authority over "scripture" because of the revelation of the Holy Spirit). But now I've gone and argued that the other side is wrong so I'll hush up.

So Stephen, as you asked on my blog, how does pneumatology affect our position, I think a lot.

Before I close let me add, two things: I really didn't think Andy was mad about me, that was in jest (and I'm pretty sure Andy knew that. Certainy, I'm not mad at Andy) and secondly, I'll talk about what I believe to be true about God and the Holy Spirit, but I'm not going to speak for the Holy Spirit and say, he don't change or doesn't act differently.

Larry B said...

Stephen and Tim,

Maybe to clarify a little how epistemology fits using your example.

Suppose you are talking to a guy at work and he knows a little about Christianity but he's not a Christian and he says to you, "I hear people talk about the Holy Spirit a lot. How do you know there is a Holy Spirit?"

I'm surmising most people would be hard pressed to answer anything other than - because the Bible tells me there is. Probably not a particulary good answer for the guy asking the question. And the real question he's asking is more of how does a reasonable person living in today's world believe in things like a spirit that goes around doing things.

If you understand your own epistemology you can probably address this question far better than if you really don't know how you came to this knowledge.

Tim Sisk said...

Larry B: As I've written elsewhere, I'm not a fan of epistemology, so I'll admit to probably being stubborn.

But epistemology, as I understand it, and how I felt it has been discussed by Andy B. is summarized by the question: "How do we know what we know?" Not, why do we believe what we believe.

Certainly, your hypothetical non-Christian asks an epistemological question, "How do you know there is a Holy Spirit?" But is that what he truly wants to know? Why no! As you said what he really wants to know is "how [why] does a reasonable person living in today's world believe in things like a spirit that goes around doing things[?]" And the why (or how as you have used it here) is not an epistemological question. Perhaps there are people that want to talk epistemology, but I think most people, if interested enough to talk to you about your faith, really want to know "why" (and maybe "what") you believe what you believe. And if you start off by saying, "Well the Bible says it to be true" then you really are just a lazy, ineffective evangelist.

But if this hypothetical person were to retort, "No, dummy! How do you know there is a Holy Spirit, I want to talk epistemology with you!" then my response would be (internally "Dang, I hate epistemology") but externally, would include a brief rebuff of epistemology, in which I do the whole light bulb illustration (see my blog), leading to a conclusion that I have to accept lots of things on faith, even my religion, "but let me tell you how my faith has been confirmed...(which might include lots of "reasoned" arguments depending on my IQ level and my ability to express myself coherently and cogently (a daunting task for me).

I'll admit to a probable obtuse-ness on my part due to my negative regard for epistemology. (I don't mean it doesn't have value. I just sort of chuck in on the shelf with books on the end times; it maybe interesting to engage, study, and speculate, but we'll never know until we get there. Meanwhile while we engage in it we've neglected our more pressing needs).

If it has come across that I have datached reason from our work, well then I've expressed myself badly. But like Anselm, I begin with faith and work from it. (And I have to dialogue with 1 Corinthians 1). When we examine scripture and reason differently, our differences, in the end, for me anyway, aren't explained by our different epistemologies but rather our pneumatologies and our canonicity.

Stephen said...

Ack! Larry B, you've grouped me with Tim! :)

Seriously though, the question being How do you know there is a Holy Spirit? I think that this epistemology argument is somewhat dying in the the postmodern world. In m humble opinion is no longer about how do you know but what do you feel? Now I am sure I will be crucified for this one after all I should know better since I learned epistemology from Dr. William Abraham. Correct away now epistemological peoples!

Elizabeth said...

Andy - this is a great post, and great metaphor.